Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Dark night of the soul, part II

The doctors saved my sister and her leg, although she had to go through five surgeries in two months and remained in the hospital on Long Island.  After my mother's first month in the hospice, the social worker came to me and said, "Well, it appears your mother isn't dying yet, so we can't justify keeping her here.  On the other hand, moving her now would be difficult - where would you move her?  And with your sister in a hospital too, it's probably too much for your to deal with.  We can keep your mother here for another month, but you would have to pay out of pocket."  

I was so distraught, I said yes.  It cost us $17,000 and my mother stayed at Jacob Perlow for four more weeks until she had to leave.  We still had no idea what her prognosis was, but I found a nursing home in Brooklyn, not far from where I lived.  After one month, the hospice aide suggested that we move her to another nursing home, farther away from where I lived, but much less dreary.  My mother wasn't really aware of what was going on, so I had to make all the decisions.  By February, my sister was home in Pennsylvania and my mother was now in the fourth nursing home she'd been in in two years.  And I haven't even mentioned my daughter yet.  She was sixteen at the time, didn't like her high school, didn't want to go to school, didn't see me much because I was either at the hospice or the nursing home, or walking across the Brooklyn Bridge or in Central Park to keep myself sane.  

And that's when I got sick.  It was only the flu, but it was enough to send me to bed for a week.  Lying in bed, thinking about my mother, my sister, and my daughter, and the past few months, and that several really close friends were sick with cancer, and that it was February... I kept thinking, "What is so great about life?  All I've seen these past few months is death and illness and misery." 

I remember lying in the bed with my laptop and writing emails to friends, asking for some answer as to why there is so much suffering.

One of my friends (my very wise friend, Jacqui, who always seems to be there for me at my lowest times) asked if I'd ever heard of a book called "The Widsom of No Escape" by Pema Chodron.

I had heard of it, in fact it was sitting in one of my bookshelves.  I'd been in a writing workshop in Los Angeles for a couple of years, and the leader of that workshop had given me a copy years earlier when she visited New York.  I remember that I tried to read it, probably read the first page, and put it on the bookshelf.  

On Jacqui's suggestion, I dragged myself out of the bed and searched for the book.  I found it and read the inscription which was from 1993, eleven years earlier.  

The first chapter was entitled "Loving Kindness."

"There's a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been been on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable.  You can see this even in insects and animals and birds.  All of us are the same.

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet.  To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is.  If we're committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we're going to run; we'll never know what's beyond that particular barrier or wall or fearful thing.  

When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they're going to improve, which is sort of subtle aggression against who they really are.  It's a bit like saying, 'If I jog, I'll be a much better person.'  'If only I could get a nicer house, I'd be a better person.'  Or 'If I could meditate and calm down, I'd be a better person."  Or the scenario may be that they find fault with others; they might say, 'If it weren't for my husband, I'd have a perfect marriage.'  'If it weren't for the fact that my boss and I can't get on, my job would be just great.'  And 'If it weren't for my mind, my meditation would be excellent.'

But loving kindness - maitri - toward ourselves doesn't mean getting rid of anything.  Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years.  We can still be angry after all these years.  We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness.  The point is not to try to change ourselves. Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It's about befriending who we are already.  The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are.  That's the ground, that's what we study, that's what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest."  

"...the key to feeling more whole and less shut off and shut down is to be able to see who we are and what we're doing.

The innocent mistake that keeps us caught in our own particular style of ignorance, unkindness, and shut-downness is that we are never encouraged to see clearly what is, with gentleness.  Instead there's a kind of basic misunderstanding that we should try to be better than we already are, that we should try to improve ourselves, that we should try to get away from painful things, and that if we could just learn how to get away from the painful things, then we would be happy.  That is the innocent, naive misunderstanding that we all share, which keeps us unhappy.

Meditation is about seeing clearly the body that we have, the mind that we have, the domestic situation that we have, the job that we have, and the people who are in our lives.  It's about seeing how we react to all these things.  It's about seeing our emotions and thoughts just as they are right now, in this very moment, in this very room, on this very seat.  It's about not trying to make them go away, not trying to become better than we are, but just seeing clearly with precision and gentleness.  Throughout this month of meditation practice, we will work with cultivating gentleness, innate precision, and the ability to let go of small-mindedness, learning how to open to our thoughts and emotions, to all the people we meet in our world, how to open our minds and hearts."  

"...The other problem is that our hang-ups, unfortunately or fortunately, contain our wealth.  Our neurosis and our wisdom are made out of the same material.  if you throw out your neurosis, you also throw out your wisdom.  Someone who is very angry also has a lot of energy; that energy is what's so juicy about him or her.  That's the reason people love that person.  The idea isn't to get rid of your anger, but to make friends with it, to see it clearly with precision and honesty and also to see it with gentleness. "

I was very angry when picked up that book.  I was pissed off at my life, my responsibilities, the mistakes I'd made.  Somehow that idea of maitri really moved me and in acknowledging the anger that I felt, some of it dissipated.  

I began mediating, I kept reading Pema Chodron, and changed many aspects of my life, including allowing myself to ask for and accept help. 

Now, five years later, I find myself in another very difficult period of my life.  My mother has finally died, my marriage is ending, my daughter has moved away from home, there are so many changes.  But now I see these changes as opportunities to grow.  Growing pains still hurt, but I think if I keep on meditating, and accepting what is, I'll be okay.  


Mia said...

You are so very O.K.!

staceyjwarner said...

we only grow in loss...find moments to savor and i mean savor the sadness feel it and fall into it, make it your friend, accept it, it will pass, everything does
much love